Herald’s editor ducks the issue

duck assassination

This post is not directly about climate, but concerns our relationship with reason and science, in which there are parallels with the conduct of the climate debate.

Shrill cries of alarm

Shortly after the momentous earthquake and tsunami wreaked such terrible havoc in Japan on March 11, the press and broadcast media began a chorus of shrill, poorly-informed warnings about the nuclear crisis developing at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Sober description of fail-safes

Then a blog posting appeared on March 13, describing the operation of those 40-year-old reactors and their numerous fail-safe systems. It was written by one Dr Josef Oehmen, a mechanical engineer and scientist, and concluded there was no reason to be alarmed and very little possibility of a meltdown. Even if a meltdown occurred, he said, the plant’s systems and trained engineers would handle the event safely. The article was quickly picked up and widely distributed around the Internet.

It was published here as Nuclear reactor: blast impossible, meltdown no sweat.

Maladroit attack on public peace of mind

On March 15 one Justin Elliott published Debunking a viral blog post on the nuke threat which tried to pour cold water on Oehmen’s analysis. Elliott didn’t do this by refuting what Oehmen had said or by disagreeing with his analysis; instead, he ripped into Oehmen’s reputation.

Oehmen’s article begins with a candid admission:

I am a mechanical engineer and research scientist at MIT. I am not a nuclear engineer or scientist, or affiliated with Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, so please feel free to question my competence.

But in a supremely bungling introduction, Elliott swaggers right on past this clear, honest disclaimer and arrogantly reports, as his own words, that Oehmen has no special expertise in nuclear power. Hmm. The cautious would note that and read on with care. Note his condescending confirmation that Oehmen does indeed work at MIT.

Journalists, too

Of course, anyone is free to read and pass on information on nuclear power plants or anything else, without needing qualifications in the field to do so — like journalists, for example, who do it every day. I haven’t looked into Justin Elliott’s qualifications; is he a nuclear physicist? Is he qualified to debunk descriptions of a nuclear power station?

We could go on in this vein but without profit; the only matter for judgement is the statements being made, for the authority to make them derives from their inherent truth and not from the author’s qualifications.

Conspicuous panic-peddling

Then Elliott tells us that Oehmen’s key claim, that there will not be any “significant” release of radioactivity, appears to have already been proven false. But what Elliott cites is a brief release far below dangerous levels, which harmed nobody and quickly dissipated. It is a travesty to describe it as a significant release — blatant scaremongering — and doesn’t disprove Oehmen’s central theme at all.

Elliott mocks Oehmen’s essay for being widely republished and picked up by pro-nuclear groups, though they are clearly beyond the author’s influence and are no reason to criticise him.

Herald swallows the lot

Now we come to the substance of this post, for the Herald’s editor, Tim Murphy, sent that feeble polemic to the NZ Climate Science Coalition to rebut the suggestion that the Herald use the original post by Oehmen, offering the public some factual information about the strength of the defences in the Fukushima nuclear power plants and giving them confidence thereby that the worrying crisis might somehow be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

Cannot see logical fallacy

But it seems that Mr Murphy was impressed with the few doubtful assertions in Elliott’s ad hominem attack on Dr Oehmen that actually relate to the nuclear situation and considers them sufficient to demolish any confidence we might draw from Oehmen’s factual article.

It’s a surprise that Murphy’s undoubted journalistic skills can’t detect the logical fallacy of the ad hominem strategy. Since that strategy consists in ignoring the case being made and instead attacking the man who makes it, its skill in refuting the argument is precisely zero and therefore one’s acceptance of it declares a shabby reasoning.

The so-called ‘debunking’ post emphasises Dr. Josef Oehmen’s lack of nuclear qualifications, but it is simply repeating what Dr Oehmen himself says openly at the outset. More damaging for its own purposes, the article fails to mention either Dr Oehmen’s descriptions of the nuclear reactors or their multiple fail-safe systems.

Inherent safety of reactors not disputed

Because he doesn’t mention them, he can hardly dispute them, so he most certainly does not refute them. Our perception of the nuclear ‘crisis’ is unaltered by his arm-waving.

For without evidence of weaknesses in the reactor systems, why should our confidence in them diminish? Why should we believe the news media when they use an alarming word like “surge” to describe an increase in radiation “800 times more intense than the recommended hourly exposure limit in Japan,” yet knowing that the radiation level would have to increase about a million times before anyone risked the beginning of physical harm?

The misleading use of ‘surge’, gentle reader, is blatant scaremongering (apologies for repeating the term). Did Murphy assign a single reporter the task of researching the facts of managing a damaged reactor of that design?

His message to the Coalition’s secretary, Terry Dunleavy, states:

I imagine there is no chance the NZCSC will distribute this to its mailing list or back to Bob Carter!!

Well, that shows how little he knows, for he is quite wrong. In fact, every active member of the Coalition got a copy of the ‘debunking’ article, including Bob Carter. What would we be afraid of? We can read and reason. The debunking the editor sent us in such ebullient mood was a flimsy piece of work — an incompetent refutation and a mischievous interference with trustworthy information which had promised to relieve a large number of people of a considerable anxiety.

This message from the editor of the long-diminishing, newly-tabloid NZ Herald provides good evidence that, surprisingly, he cannot reason. For he missed the logical deficiency in the scurrilous attack on Oehmen’s knowledgeable and well-intentioned article.

He also overlooks the fact that our organisation is called the NZ Climate Science Coalition and has nothing to do with nuclear power. Why should he suppose we would not distribute an interesting couple of articles on nuclear power?

Is he so biased against us for our defence of climate realism that as a matter of course he disagrees with anything we say?

It’s a shame that he embroils the Herald in the bias he embraces for himself. It’s a shame that he abandons objectivity and a pity he has lost his reason.

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12 Thoughts on “Herald’s editor ducks the issue

  1. Some years ago I decided to cancel my subscription to the Herald because, with the exception of a few competent op-ed contributors, I became increasingly irritated with the standard and tenor of journalism in the paper. Unfortunately my wife, who prefers to see print on a page rather than a screen, insisted that we suscribe to the Waikato Times. Its not much better, but it is cheaper!
    It seems that few journalists (let’s call them that rather than reporters) can write in other than a breathless manner, full of alarm and trepidation (which, of course, the public has a “right to know”). Alarmism is now, apparently, the name of the game.
    Yesterday morning, while you were probably thinking about how to phrase your article, I spent a half hour or more in a video chat with a mate in Los Angeles. Naturally, the topic of earthquakes came up and, also naturally, we discussed the problematic Pacific Rim. He informed me that the latest media alarm was about the import of food from Japan. His reaction was “Say, what?”. Mine was “Pardon?” Just how much food, which could just possibly be contaminated with radioactive material, have been exported from the vicintiy of Fukujima since the tsunami devastated so much of the region?
    Now, what was that you were saying about reasoning?

  2. Anthropogenic Global Cooling on 28/03/2011 at 10:20 am said:

    I’ve given up on the NZ Herald and I advise everyone else to as well. I’ve caught the moderators editing links to peer-reviewed papers in my posts to render them inoperable in the comments sections of climate change articles, and deleting posts because they don’t fit with their AGW agenda. The first time this happened I emailed a complaint to the online editor & as I pushed send the newspaper editor wrote to me wanting to publish my comments in the newspaper, proving that the comment was acceptable – they apologised profusely and reinstated about 4 posts that they’d edited out. I’ve caught them at it again just lately and complained again, this time I was ignored. I’ve emailed the editor a copy of my facebook post telling everyone I know that the NZ Herald is gutter journalism & not to read it.

    My advice is that if you’d like to complain do it to the newspaper editor – he will forward it on to the online editor but there will be a record of the online editor’s disgraceful conduct. After all, he is responsible for the actions of any snip happy, biased green party members pretending to be ‘moderators’, and eventually will be held to account for the conduct of his staff. Someone needs to be fired – deleting, or editing peoples posts to render them inoperable because they conflict with a moderators personal views is absolutely disgraceful.

    NZ Herald – gutter journalism with a complete lack of ethics.

  3. Clarence on 28/03/2011 at 1:04 pm said:

    The entire reportage of the Fukushima incident has been plagued by the lack of commonly-agreed measures of Sievert/hour radiation which are likely to:

    (a) cause death – within a short time;
    (b) cause serious physical harm;
    (c) impact adversely on health of infants or render food inedible;
    (d) breach applicable safety standards
    (e) justify evacuation, etc
    (f) exceed that of a cat scan or a long flight (or eating a banana)

    It is notable that Japan’s triple disaster has killed thousands, but none as yet from radiation.

    • Mike Jowsey on 28/03/2011 at 9:35 pm said:

      Well-said sir!

      I would humbly add that when main-stream-media toes the party line and when good people stand but remain silent in the face of abject bias/propaganda, there is little hope for life as we know it. Case in point = the recent passage of the Marine and Seabed blahblah Act. No mandate, no support, yet passed in order to secure Mister Key the Key votes he needs to cludge a government in November. Sorry to push a barrow, but it is a striking example of the naked king not listening.

    • Andy on 28/03/2011 at 11:01 pm said:

      I’ve been a follower of the UK blogosphere for a while now, and watched with interest the demise of the mainstream media.

      There are some good political blogs in NZ but for some reason they haven’t grabbed my attention.

      There is no doubt that the Left have captured the MSM and academia. Libertarian/Classical Liberal views now seem to be confined to blogs.

      I know that page views in these blogs is increasing, and that MSM sales are decreasing.

      We live in interesting times. Time for a “paradigm shift”, hopefully not involving guns.

  4. Alexander K on 28/03/2011 at 10:31 pm said:

    The Herald has had the reputation of not being worthy of serious readers’ time for years. Toe-curlingly inapropriate behaviour from Herald reprting staff seems to be the norm, such as the dear lady reporter in Auckland who recently attended a staff fancy-dress ‘do’ dressed as a female murder/stabbing victim of very recent memory. She did apologise to the victim’s parents, but how could a reporter with any grasp of professional ethics, or even common decency, carry out such an ourageous act? The same lady has a reputation for ‘door-stopping’ the elderly relatives of anyone who is deemed at all newsworthy, and her colleagues have been doing this for years. As for witless and feeble comment and reportage on climate matters, well…

  5. QuentinF on 29/03/2011 at 11:56 am said:

    The MSM in the USA is stuffed. Read Alex Jones to find out they running for cover fast. Also Ch7, 9 and ABC SBS in Australia suck to the same biased disinformation propaganda, along with TVNZ and TV3 in NZ. Already proved that the BBC has been totally hijacked by the enviro-maniacs, they wont touch Piers Corbyn or Monkton. The only reasonable tv news show now is Russia Today (RT).

  6. Gary on 31/03/2011 at 8:30 pm said:

    TV1 gave time to a foreigner this morning (Fred Pearce) telling us how we should be running this country , with veiled threats about how bad we were and our imageas a country would be damaged if we do not change our ways with carbon emmissions. Even more disturbing he fessed up the Minister in charge of Climate change had given him some time with a meeting.
    The Herald will NO DOUBT also give this interferring foreigner, space in the Herald to spew out his view on how NZ should be run.
    Fred Pearce Bugger off, we do not need your type in this country.

    • Alexander K on 01/04/2011 at 12:16 am said:

      I agree, Gary. Fred Pearce appears to have a weird anti-NZ thing going and has denigrated us quite unfairly and in the shrillest terms in the past. His main beef (sorry about the pun) seems to be that we have the wicked termerity to make a business out of grassland farming in which our crude livestock belch and defecate unacceptably and are eventually exported to feed much of the world which cannot feed itself. NZ also uses hydroelctric generation from big and naughty dams to meet about 70% of our electricity needs. Dams are really bad stuff for Greens, as they just may burst and drown people who live downstream and may be bad for the environment in countless unexplained ways. In fact, hydro is so unacceptable to Greenpeace and the WWF that they won’t allow rational folk to class electricity generated by hydro as ‘renewable’ for some bizarre reason.
      Fred is a tireless and incredibly biased Green advocate who only sees what he wants to see; it was his shoddy reportage and his alone that the IPCC’s ‘glaciergate’ nonsense stemmed from.
      He is lionised by the city and university-based Left who have never had to make anything or do anything remotely practical in their lives, apart from growing a few veges on their alotments, a strange British tradition which allows householders to have a biggish back garden remote from their house; these are grouped with other alotments where strange and ugly little garden sheds proliferate in which elderly men gather to manufacture and drink strange and scary varieties of home brew.
      In the rational, sceptical part of the world’s population, Fred has zero credibility and is not taken seriously at all. He attacked my country on false grounds and wearing the guise of an impartial ‘science reporter’, which he certainly is not. I cannot forgive him for that.

    • Andy on 01/04/2011 at 1:20 pm said:

      Yeah we got that on the NZ thread.

      Apparently Nick Smith has made mutterings about the 2050 targets.
      Which planet are these guys on?

    • QuentinF on 01/04/2011 at 5:07 pm said:

      Titan i think ..it -179 C there and all Methane, o which one of those supposed GHGs!

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